It makes no political sense for me to write this op-ed. As a first-time city council member, halfway through a four-year term, I am not up for election this year. Whoever the residents of Albertville send to the council on November 8th, I will need to work closely with them. Conventional wisdom therefore suggests I should keep my mouth shut and let the various campaigns proceed without comment. Personally, I would do well to adhere to that wisdom. However, there are times when personal interest runs contrary to a greater good.
Reading a recent op-ed authored by my friend Jeffrey O’Brien, in which he endorsed three challengers seeking to replace incumbents on the Albertville city council, I felt compelled to respond. The article implies, though perhaps unintentionally, that the council has performed poorly. As the newest addition to the council, coming from a background of watchdog activism, I wish to provide some perspective on that point.
To start with, I agree wholeheartedly with Jeff’s observation that our choice of local officials proves more important than it is often treated. Who we elect to city council, school board, and county commission is often afforded the least amount of thought, despite having some of the most direct impact on our lives. These choices should be made carefully. To choose well, we must understand not just who the candidates are, but the job they are applying to.
In his op-ed, Jeff cites a number of examples where municipal leaders in much larger communities have been able to attract business. He recalls his time serving on the Albertville planning commission, during which he perceived a reactive rather than proactive approach to development. He suggests that new leadership on the council could result in more robust development analogous to that seen elsewhere. To back this claim, he offers a single substantive point. Unfortunately, it is one I must correct.
It is simply untrue that “we don’t offer any sort of incentives such as TIF financing and other economic development programs which nearby communities do.” In the past two years, the council has approved three separate TIF packages for various industrial development projects. Another is expected to come before us in the coming weeks. Even so, we ought not adopt the premise that TIF financing should be approved in all circumstances. Our neighbors in Rogers have encountered difficulty resulting from their generous TIF offerings. As noted by many whenever Albertville’s economic development is discussed, our city only covers four square miles. We don’t have an abundance of land to exempt from future property taxes, and might easily place ourselves in an untenable position if we continue exempting what we do have.
In the interest of full disclosure, I have endorsed the re-election campaign of Jillian Hendrickson for mayor. However, my purpose here is not to campaign for or against anyone. I believe that every candidate running for council has the capacity to do the job well. But they must first understand what has been done to date, and what may be required in the future.
It’s very easy to campaign on notions of lower taxes, less spending, more amenities, and better services. But it doesn’t take a mathematical prodigy to realize those promises don’t add up. You can’t give away TIF incentives without placing some burden on taxpayers. You can’t strong arm developers into moving forward with projects that don’t make financial sense. And you can’t offer better municipal services and grander infrastructure without sending residents the bill.
What we can do, and what I will work with the new council to do, is manage our finances and policies responsibly to ensure Albertville remains attractive to development while limiting our impact on family budgets. I am confident that any of the candidates elected will commit to that task as well, and learn through doing as I have.